A Lifetime Fishing, Billy Power Recalls

This months guest blog is brought to us by Pat Nolan. Pat recently republished a piece in the monthly Marine Times magazine with the headline “A Lifetime Fishing, Billy Power Recalls. It was to coincide with Billy’s recent retirement. Needless to say I’ve met Billy countless times in the last few years, and he is never without a fascinating snippet of information about our maritime past. I was so taken with Pat’s piece I asked him via Marine Times Editor Mark McCarthy to consider allowing me to republish. Pat graciously agreed.
Dunmore East man, Billy Power, has experienced the roller-coaster fishing scenario over several decades at the Co Waterford port.  He has witnessed the transition from the slack times of the 1930s and ‘40s gradually rise to the heady days of 1970s and ‘80s. Sadly, he has also subsequently witnessed the downward trend that is so evident today. It was not on the deck or in the wheelhouse of a fishing boat that this insight was accrued, but behind the counter of a business that during the 20th century became synonymous with Dunmore East fishing.   Yes, it was a business that supplied food, drink and a variety of provisions to crews of fishing vessels from far and wide. The regular contact with boat owners, skippers, fishermen, fish merchants, agents, etc. provided Billy with a noteworthy overview of fishing activity at the port. In the early days Power’s business was centred on one location. Today Power’s Bar and Power’s Centra Convenience Store & Bureau de Change are separately located on the Dock Road. Many years ago the combined business was widely referred to as, ‘The Butchers’, or ‘Bill’s’. That was a throw back from the days when Bill Power senior, the butcher, also sold groceries and alcohol to locals and fishermen. Today Billy’s interests are centred on the convenience store.

Dunmore circa 1950’s with a busy quay.  Photo sourced from William Power

As he recalls it, the upturn in Dunmore East herring fishing in the early 1950s was given great impetus by the arrival of Nolan’s driftnet boats from Union Hall, Co Cork, in the winter of 1950’/51. They came at the prompting of local fish merchant, Paddy O’Toole, who believed that herring shoals were plentiful in the nearby bay and river estuary. With my family being involved I can recall the circumstances very well. Following Paddy O’Toole’s phone calls there was deliberation as to whether the boats should go or not. In a matter of days it was decided that one would go. Around the end of October 1950 the 35ft fishing vessel, Florence, set out on the then formidable 100-mile trip to Dunmore East. She was skippered by Willie O’Neill and crewed by Thomas O’Sullivan, Pat O’Donovan, Paddy Minihane and Johnny Leahy, all local men who  have long since passed on to their maker. Perhaps though, Nolan owned boats and Union Hall crews were no strangers to Dunmore East. An extract from the Southern Star Newspaper of the early 1900s leads us to believe as much; the extract, which refers to my grandfather, reads as follows, “Mr Joe Nolan’s motor boat, Ocean Star, had a large take of herrings last week at Dunmore. They fetched a record sum of £300.”

Did the deliberation, planning and preparation of the 1950s venture prove worthwhile? As it turned out, yes! Paddy O’Toole’s hunch had been correct; herring shoals were indeed plentiful, with good landings and reasonable prices. To celebrate Christmas, Willie and his crew made the long trip back to Union Hall in the Florence.  They returned to Dunmore East a week or so later. It was their first trip home since departing in late October. A long time for five men to live on a small boat with none of today’s luxuries!  The vulnerability of those same small boats fishing at night in adverse weather conditions was also brought home when some time later the Florence made news headlines.  It arose when she lost her rudder while herring drifting. Fortunately the Schull boat, Ros Guill, was fishing nearby. Her skipper, Dan Griffin, realising that the Florence was in difficulty came to her assistance and towed her to the safety of Ballycotton harbour.

Dunmore fishermen via Barony of Gaultier Historical Society

The months that followed the initial departure of the Florence to Dunmore East saw three further Nolan owned boats do likewise; the Happy Home skippered by Jack Burns, the Dun Aine skippered by John Burns, and the Hopeful, skippered by Mickey Deasy. Each of those boats was a mere 38ft in length. Winter fishing in the vicinity of Hook Head and even up the Waterford estuary was a tough business in small boats. It was not for novices or the faint hearted. Strong winds occasionally accompanied by hail, sleet and even snow, blew towards the nearby rocky shores. Foul weather clothing used at the time was fearfully inadequate. Life was not easy for men working with nets and ropes coming out of icy-cold water. I have no memory of gloves being worn at that time!  Men were pushed to the limit, often working in pitch dark nights at a time when lighting in and around boats was insufficient by any standards. That’s the way it was in those days.

Within two years or perhaps far less, of the Florence’s arrival at Dunmore East, the number of boats fishing from the port greatly increased. The pier that had been virtually deserted a short time previously suddenly became a hive of activity. Herrings were being landed by the boatload! Yet, the activity of those early years was minuscule in relation to what was to follow. Soon the Florence and her likes were replaced by much larger boats.  As more sophisticated fishing techniques replaced drift netting, the volume of herring caught was so great that queuing of boats waiting to berth or to deposit their catches at offshore factory ships was a common sight.
Ballyteige Bay to the east of Baginbun Head, Co Wexford was the location where most herring were caught. Baginbun became a bye-word for that particular sea area.
As the 1950s progressed there was a fairly swift move away from drift netting when purse seining and other different versions of seining, including the famous coil-a-side or indeed half-coil-aside, began to establish themselves as more efficient ways of catching herring. To coin a phrase, the show was on the road, and Power’s business along with most aspects of life in Dunmore East was on the way up.
As we sat in his home in August 2010, Billy pointed towards what can only be described as stacks of ledgers, all of which he said, “Held records of fishing boat provision-accounts from the distant past.” When I asked him if I could see the records from the late 1950s for the Larus, a boat owned by my own family, he extracted the appropriate ledger from the pile in a matter of minutes.  He went on to say, “By the end of the 1950s we had on our books, boats not only from all round the Irish coast but also English, Scottish, German and Dutch vessels.  Throughout the 1960’s and ’70 we also supplied provisions to a large Belgian fleet, as well as some French and a few Norwegian vessels. While the Norwegians engaged in whaling and shark fishing, the Belgians mainly caught white fish. We had one hundred and thirty Dutch boats alone on our books. Drift netters from the Cornish ports of Penzance and Mousehole arrived on the scene early on. Within a season or two the St Ives purse seiners, Girl Renee and Sweet Promise also arrived. Word had spread around the Cornish coast that money was to be made at Dunmore East. The message was, there are loads of herring there, get in touch with Paddy O’Toole regarding fish sales, and call on Mrs Power for virtually all other needs – she’ll look after you’.”
Billy added, “The Dunmore herring fishing of the early to mid-1950s was a tremendous boost for those Cornish fishermen. Many of them were post-war British Navy retirees trying their hand at long-lining. Previous to their coming to Dunmore, meagre earnings of around £2 per week were par for the course. I remember that a crew on one of those St Ives boats made £5 a-man the first week here and £10 the next week. That was followed by a run of £30 for five weeks in succession; more money than they would otherwise have made annually. Thanks to the Dunmore ‘silver darlings’, Christmas at St Ives was made all the more enjoyable that year. It was the cue for many more Cornish boats to head in this direction.”
What did Billy remember of the Irish and Scotch boats that fished out of Dunmore East?  On the whole they seemed to do well, and as years went on into the 1970s some of them made absolute fortunes. The North of Ireland and Scotchmen initially had boats and gear that were superior to their South of Ireland counterparts. Out of that grew a situation that at one point caused great unpleasantness between Irish skippers, or at least some Irish skippers, and their Northern counterparts. By the late 1960s boats and gear of both factions were on a par. Throughout what I will call, ‘the Dunmore East herring campaign’, the McGrath brothers, Jack and Tommy, are reputed to have been great stalwarts of Irish fishermen. In the difficult times, when other agents and buyers choose to deal with ‘outsiders’ the McGrath brothers were instrumental in keeping the Irish fleet at sea.
It would appear, according to Billy, that those who came worst out of the Dunmore East herring fishing of the 1950s and ‘60s were owners who acquired boats though the BIM hire purchase scheme. They were obliged to sell their fish via BIM, a body that failed to find market outlets matching the large Dutch, German or French merchants, many of whom who had luggers on standby to ship fish to the continent as and when required. Accordingly, the owners of BIM boats were consistently paid considerably lower prices than those boat owners who sold on the open market. The BIM restriction Billy says “Was like something out of communism.”

Barreling “Silver Darlings” in Dunmore
Photo sourced from William Power

In the course of general chat Billy recalled periods during the 1970s when problems in other countries proved advantageous for the herring fishing industry at Dunmore.  Inflated prices became the order of the day. He recalled that respectively, a desert war and a fishermen’s strike were responsible for two such periods. In the first instance a Dutch company operating in Dunmore was contracted to supply herring to the Israeli Army. That he recalls, “Put a lot of money into fishing here in the early 1970s.” The fishermen’s strike referred to took place in France. All the big pelagic boats there became involved and did not go to sea. With a keen eye for business, some of the continental merchants operating at Dunmore channelled vast quantities of herring into France via back door routes. It was an extremely lucrative venture for all concerned!

Going back to the unprecedented volume of business that came the way of the Power family, I asked Billy how they coped with it. In reply he made light of it, simply remarking on what a great woman his mother, affectionately known as Katie to all and sundry, had been. He commented on how admirably she managed following the death of his father in 1960. He also spoke of the part played by family members including his brother Peter and sister Helen. Bookkeeping and accounting in general were carried out in the form of traditional ledger recording etc. Importantly the accounts of most boats were paid through agents or fish buyers representing fleets and individual boats.
Sadly, it has to be said that in the midst of the good times at Dunmore East there were boats that for one reason or another didn’t do so well. Billy points to the absurd sales restriction placed on BIM boats as part of that problem. Yes, there was the occasional boat that didn’t manage to pay its way, but Mrs Power knew the score and gave leeway in the matter of overdue accounts to those she knew to be genuine people down on their luck. Years later many of those fishermen returned to repay and thank her! Indeed money resulting from unpaid bills was forwarded to her to from distant parts of the world. It came from those genuine men who many years previously failed to make their fortunes at Dunmore East!
As a footnote to our chat Billy smiled as he recalled that in the days of the Dunmore East boom-times, more than fish left on continental bound ships and luggers. It was not unknown for consignments of beef and lamb to make their way into holds. The question is who supplied the expertly butchered sides and cuts of meat? All those years later, I feel that we will not be in breach of any official secrets act, or the likes, to disclose that the prepared consignments referred to travelled but a short distance from shop to ship. Sufficient to say, a young chap named Billy Power was known to be very handy with cleavers, bone saws, trimming knives and other implements likely to be found in a butcher’s shop!
I’d like to thank Pat for agreeing to allow me post this excerpt from his article.  I gives a tremendous overview of the fishing at Dunmore, particularly in the 20thC. Pat’s description of the life and conditions endured aboard vessels such as the  Florence was part and parcel of my childhood hearing of fishing, indeed it was not far from my own experience when I first started out, particularly in the wintertime. The piece was republished recently as a tribute to Billy on his retirement. I certainly wish him well, and look forward to many more years of stories and yarns from the man.

Finally from me just to say that I’m delighted to get contributions for the guest blog.  If any others out there would like to contribute, I would love to hear from you.  The brief is 1200 word count, on a theme of  the three sister rivers and harbour maritime history.  If interested to know more or discuss an idea please drop me an email. 
I publish a blog about Waterford Harbours maritime heritage each Friday.  
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Rescuing the Helemar H. Dunmore East 1959

At 3am on a damp, misty February morning in 1959, Waterford harbour pilot, Pat Rogers was arriving into Dunmore for work when he spotted a ship close to the shore up the harbour. In a fresh SE wind a small ship had run onto the rocks at Ardnamult Head, or the Middle Head as many locals call it. All her lights were on, and she was flashing an SOS.  Pat immediately alerted the lifeboat(1).
The ship was the Helemar-H, an 800 ton Dutch cargo ship operating out of Rotterdam by the Carbeka NV Co. She was en route from Amsterdam to Waterford when the incident occured, carrying 500 tons of fertiliser. Only moments before Pat spotted the vessel most of the crew including the Captain had been asleep in their bunks. While at the wheel a young mate, apparently on his first run to the port, had ignored his captains instruction to wake him once they came in clear sight of the Hook light.  
The Helemar-H on the rocks from the front page of the Irish Times
Accessed from  http://www.shipspotters.nl/viewtopic.php?t=1347
The lifeboat Annie Blanche Smith* put to sea at 3.35am and was alongside the ship by 3.50. The Captain requested that she stand by, while his crew attempted to assess the situation.  The conditions at the time were described as choppy seas with a strong south easterly wind blowing.  After an hour all the lights went out, the engine room having flooded. The lifeboat again went alongside and it was agreed that seven crew would be removed, the Captain and two others remaining aboard. The crew were dropped to Dunmore East, and the lifeboat immediately returned. At 8.25 the remaining three crew abandoned ship, were taken aboard the lifeboat and were dropped to Dunmore East at 9.05. (2)
Of course as often with shipping disasters, the accident is only the beginning of the story and it was so in this case too. A salvage operation swung into action, with two dutch tugs dispatched to the scene, the Simson and the Noord-Holland. The operation was a prolonged one, and initial assessments suggested that the ship would be a total wreck and that just some equipment and fittings might be all that was recoverable. The cargo was considered a total loss and was pumped out into the sea along with thousands of gallons of water. (3)

At Passage East 3/3/1959.  DA.68. Andy Kelly collection
The salvage operation discovered serious damage to the bow of the ship where she had initially struck the cliffs.  However, the hull of the ship was also damaged as was the stern.  Eventually lightened and the holes temporarily packed she was got off the rocks and towed upriver to Passage East where she was grounded. This allowed for a better assessment and more temporary repairs.  It was later decided to tow her to Verolme dockyards in Cobh, Cork.  She later crossed to her home port of Rotterdam under tow from the tug Nestor, arriving April 6th. (4)
Community Notice Board
Marine Planning Ireland have announced  dates/venues for our marine planning Baseline Report roadshow. 
2nd Oct: Waterford Institute of Technology
5th Oct: Town Hall Theatre, Galway
12th Oct: Sligo Institute of Technology
19th Oct: Cork University Hospital
23rd Oct: DIT
The ship would later be refurbished and would go on to provide a steady service until she was broken up in 1985.  The matter also ended up in court however, where the blame for the event was laid squarely on the shoulders of the young mate, who had displayed a “youthful overconfidence”.  In failing to rouse the Captain, R. Landstra as per his instructions the unidentified man had flaunted his duty and put his ship and her crew in peril. (5)
Interestingly no one mentioned that it was Friday 13th. I guess the same oul piseog about the date didn’t exist at the time.  It certainly was a misfortunate date for the young mate.
This blog today is prompted by a recent photograph posted by Andy Kelly to the Waterford Maritime History Facebook page (see above).
(1) Irish Times Saturday Feburary 14th 1959. p 1.
(2) The Story of the Dunmore East Lifeboats. Jeff Morris. 2003
(3) Irish Times. Tuesday 17th February 1959. p 4
(4) http://www.shipspotters.nl/viewtopic.php?t=1347 Accessed 19/9/2018
(5) Ibid
* The crew was given as: Paddy Power, Cox; Richard Murphy, Engineer; Arthur Wescott Pitt; Richard, John & Maurice Power. sourced from Dublin Evening mail 13/2/1959 p 7
Postscript:  Maurice Power of Carrick passed along an article from the then Cork Examiner Monday 16th Feb 1959. p 8.  A few other details and points of clarification are contained.  According to the article, Pat Rogers boarded the pilot vessel and went to the scene.  They then turned back and raised the alarm having ascertained the nature of the problem.  The life boat initially took four away and stood by, then removed a further three and returned to Dunmore.  Meanwhile a coast watch crew were setting up their apparatus in case the need for an over the cliff rescue was required. It was apparently the first time for any of the crew to sail to Waterford, and for the ship too. Some were as young as 16. The other detail that is interesting is that two other vessels were on the scene; A Duncannon based Arklow registered trawler (no name as yet I’m afraid) and a Dutch lugger Tide. The Helemar-H fired two rockets with line attached.  One was picked up by the trawler which tried unsuccessfully to haul the ship off the rocks.  The tugs mentioned were dispatched from Liverpool and Falmouth.

I publish a blog about Waterford Harbours maritime heritage each Friday.  
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1904 Waterford Royal visit from the River Suir

On Monday 2nd May 1904, Waterford hosted a royal visit to Ireland’s oldest city. The event is very well recorded in history books, but one aspect receives a lot less attention, and that is the naval presence.
On a wet Friday evening on the 29th April(1) four Royal Navy warships steamed up the harbour and arrived at the city to take up stations for the royal visit.  Three of the ships tied up along the quays; H.M.S. Melampus(1890) under Commander G.H. Gamble, H.M.S. Curlew(1885) under Lieut. and Commander Harold G. Grenfel, and H.M.S. Skipjack(1889) under Lieut. and Commander Llewellyn Griffiths. The flotilla was under the ultimate command of Rear Admiral Angus McLeod, who flew his flag from H.M.S. Aeolus(1894), which was commanded by Albert S. Lafone. The Aeolus was anchored in the middle of the Suir off Reginald’s Tower.
HMS Aeolus from the NLI Lawrence collection L_CAB_02086
A clear hi res image to be viewed at the following link
King Edward VII and his wife Alexandria and their daughter Princess Victoria arrived to Waterford’s North Station on Monday 2nd May from Kilkenny. Alighting from the train they were paraded across the bridge and along the quays which were bedecked with bunting, flags, floral displays and crowds of onlookers. (For a wonderful photograph follow the link to National Library of Ireland). The public decorations were supplied and carried out by Mr F Wilkins & Brother of Liverpool. Reports state that it took a fortnight to complete, and following a storm on the Sunday night, workers were joined by volunteers to try repair the damaged displays prior to the arrival of the royal party.

The shipping in port was reported to have been “illuminated with bunting” including the warships. One report states that “Most of the ships in the magnificent river were dressed rainbow fashion” At night the naval vessels “presented a memorable appearance of brilliancy”. (Waterford Standard 4May 1904 p3 gave two other vessels involved ; Julia and Stormcock, a tug based at Queens Town) A royal salute was provided as the royal party entered the city from the guns of the Aeolus. Naval personnel performed a guard of honour on the Mall and a navy band played under the direction of Commander Grenfell.
The royal party went to City Hall before a trip to the Waterford showgrounds for a horse jumping event before returning to the city. They departed from the south station via part of the now Deise Greenway to Lismore Castle.
HMS Melampus
For a hi resolution black and white photo see NLI Lawrence collection L_ROY_00128
HMS Curlew via Michael O’Sullivan on Waterford History Group
NLI Lawrence collection L_ROY_03642
Hi Res http://catalogue.nli.ie/Record/vtls000322779
Although unstated in any of the coverage, an unmistakable element of the Naval presence was a display of force(2). Any thoughts of public dissent against the royals were probably curbed by what these four warships could do to the town. The large number of sailors on duty is clear to see in the NLI photos of the quays that day. For example, I noted in one as the carriage paraded along the quay a guard of naval personnel was standing to attention along the route with guns and bayonets fixed in place, standing three feet apart. The last role of the navy for the event seems to have been a firework display later that evening, which was described as “elaborate” and was supplied by Messrs Brock of London.
Notwithstanding the obvious security aspect of these ships in port, they must have provided a colourful spectacle, not to mention a welcome boost to the local taverns and perhaps a trip home for many of the local seamen that were undoubtedly aboard. I’m uncertain when the ships departed Waterford but I did find a mention of the Aeolus and Melampus being on duty later the same week, back at Kingstown for the royal party departure from Ireland on Wednesday 4th May, sailing on an evening tide.

(1) I’m indebted to Avril Harris for this detail, contained in the diaries of her father-in-law, Ernest Harris.  Avril wrote initially that “Four gunboats were in the river for the occasion, one of them named Skipjack‘. Some of the populace went onto the river on the ‘Clodagh‘ for a better view.”  The Clodagh is perhaps best known by a later name following her transition under the Clyde Shipping flag of SS Coningbeg
The actual diary entries for the period are as follows:
Friday 29th  ‘Wet in the evening. the gun boats came up.’
Sunday 1st. Ernie and his two brothers ‘went for a walk. We went over the ‘Skipjack‘. Mum’s the word’
Monday 2nd says ‘The King came. I rang at 1 o’clock.’ (He was a bellringer in Christ Church Cathedral) ….. ‘Saw the King twice. Saw fireworks from the Clodagh‘.

(2) one report lists the following; “Streets were guarded by troops, bluejackets and policemen…1st Battalion Leinster Regiment, 2nd Battalion Leinster Regiment, 2nd Battalion Royal Irish Regiment, 2nd Battalion Royal Dublin Fusiliers, 2nd Battalion Kings Regiment and 3rd Battalion Worcester Regiment.” Dublin Daily Express 3rd May 1904. P5

Other sources
Waterford Chronicle, 7th May 1904. P2
Waterford Standard, 7th May 1904. P5
Newry Reporter, 3rd May 1904. P4
Irish Independent, 2nd May 1904. P6

Thanks to James Doherty, Paul O’Farrell, Avril Harris and Frank Murphy for points of detail.

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